.hack//Roots Vol. #1 (also w/Artbox/CD/Game/Tshirt) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, April 09, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, April 17, 2007



What They Say
It was the year 2015, and for millions of gamers it was the year "The World" came to an end. Caught within a mysterious fire, all the datacenters containing the world's most popular game was destroyed, taking with it all the information about the game.

Taking elements from what was to be a different game, "the World" is reborn as "The World R:2." However, as millions of players, both new and old flood the servers, they soon discover that this new version isn't as forgiving as its previous incarnation. Being one of these new players, Haseo finds himself not only the target of countless Player Killers, but of two rivaling guilds who hope to use him in pursuit of their own agendas.

The Review!
Set some time after the earlier incarnations of the series, .hack//Roots is both familiar and new.

Audio:
While filled with great music, the actual mixes for this release are pretty simple and surprisingly flat. Providing for both the Japanese and English language sides, each of them are a done at a rather low 192 kbps for such a recent show. This isn't usually much of an issue for a dialogue show and .hack//Roots is essentially that, but the show has such little sense of space to it that it's almost all full sounding. Hardly anything is noticeable with directionality and the music sounds like it's missing a bit of its impact. Everything on both tracks and is clean and clear and free of problems though so listening to it won't be an issue. It's simply a mix that should have been better done.

Video:
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Not unlike previous incarnations, this series is filled with lots of lush looking backgrounds and vibrant looking character action. Though there isn't a lot of action, it all looks very pretty on the screen. These episodes come across in much the same way as there is a very good sense of color and depth to it and it's generally free of blocking or noise. There's very little to have issue with across these five episodes outside of some minor noise during various panning sequences where the backgrounds shift slightly. Foreground animation looks very smooth and clean and everything avoids cross coloration or aliasing.

Packaging:
Released in a blue keepcase, the cover art is a decent piece that reworks the original first volume Japanese release. Taking the character artwork of Ovan and Shino for the background an putting them in the trademarked hexes, Haseo is in the foreground with a full length character shot. The designs and colors are slightly different than in the show itself but they look good here as they're appealing and streamlined yet familiar. The back cover plays with the hexes some more with various shots from the show provided inside them as well as a larger one for the summary. A couple of smaller ones are done for the episode numbers and titles as well as the discs features. The production information and basic technical information is provided along the bottom. Bandai continues to avoid using the technical grids though which makes finding certain bits of information not terribly conducive for a quick read. No insert is included nor is the cover reversible.

The first volume is being released in a disc+box edition in addition to the disc only version. The box is designed to hold six keepcases dropped in from the top which has a removable lid. The interior of the box is just a piece of black cardboard while the main box itself is a solid chipboard type. A bit creative in its design, the box itself has a wraparound in shades of blue and black with scenes from the series while each of the main panels has two cutout areas. Between this and the black cardboard inside are a pair of chromium-like inserts that has full color images from the show. One side has a centered image on Haseo while the other is of Shino while others are in the backgrounds of both. It does allow, potentially, for swapping out with other images in future volumes or of something else entirely. Also included in the box is a demo version of .hack//G.U. Rebirth for the PS2 and the first soundtrack for the .hack//Roots series. The soundtrack has nineteen tracks on it and does have a lyric booklet with it. The last item in the box is an XL black t-shirt that has the series logo on the front and a full color character art piece on the back side.

Menu:
The menu design is simple but effective as it uses the hex imagery with shades of blow to have layers of them either static or moving. The top level has both the shows logo and menu navigation as well as some character artwork for the show, all of which is set to a nice mellow piece of music. It's a bit flashy but not glaringly so while still being an effective piece of navigation that uses familiar imagery. Access times are nice and fast and the navigation is simple and effective. The disc did not read our players' language presets and defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
Not unlike releases in previous series, the extras are very minimal here. The opening sequence has a clean version provided and there are some Japanese TV spots for the show.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Coming back into the .hack//Roots universe is like going to a friend that you don't see all that often but you enjoy spending time with. It's mellow, relaxed and it tries to be thoughtful but sometimes comes off as a little pretentious. It's also an experience where if you have any familiarity with massive gaming like presented in The World, it comes off as rather simplistic and amusing on some levels.

The twenty-six episodes series kicks off with the first five episodes that has Koichi Mashimo returning once more to direct and supervise. Moving forward some time since events of the past series, we're introduced to a new incarnation of the world that is not quite what we had seen before. Things from then are now the stuff of legends but generally not paid attention to by those who play. Time has past and everyone has moved on. No returning characters are seen here (at least not yet) but the character of The World is quite familiar. It's not exactly the same though as there is some advancement in how it's portrayed. The detail has grown to accentuate the lush background visuals. The main city that we follow seems to be slightly more advanced and detailed. There is also the addition of many Lost Ground areas, areas that may mean more to those who follow the games or other media.

Unsurprisingly, the new series is focused around a newbie to the game named Haseo. Taking the role of a Black Multi-weapon, Haseo is playing the game because a friend of his who used to play suggested that he do so. Haseo's not really sure about this game and the way it's played, nor the way people seem to interact with each other. He's initially killed early on by a Player Killer but saved through the intervention of Ovan. Ovan's a mysterious man who takes on a slightly brooding manner of someone who knows a lot but intends to dole out only what is necessary to others. Part of this comes from the fact that he leads the guild known as the Twilight Brigade. Their sole goal is to unearth information that will lead them to finding an undocumented item called the Key of the Twilight.

The guild is rather small at the moment as some members have left. All that is in it besides Ovan at the moment is a soft speaking woman named Shino who acts as Ovan's second and an almost foppish man named Sakisaka. He's a traditional fighter in a sense but his sense of style and personality lead him to be something of an outspoken simple man. The arrival of Haseo has seemed to have sparked Ovan into recruiting him as someone who will be very important to their quest. At the same time, Shino has brought in a new member in the form of Tabby, a spunky and energetic newbie girl who looks like a catgirl.

Ovan's interest in Haseo has led others to be curious about what's going on as well as with Haseo himself. That has led to Haseo being targeted for PK'ing quite a bit which puts him off from being interested in what Ovan is offering. But something about Ovan continues to draw him in even as the whispers about his status and potential grow. Ovan's interest in him has also drawn the gaze of another guild called the TaN. Led by a tiger-like man named Naobi, they seem to fill the role of the darker opposite of the Twilight Brigade. Yet while the Twilight Brigade is regarded as almost silly if not useless, TaN serves a major role in The World with how it handles itself and its actions. They're respected, if dreaded, and conduct quite a lot of business that draws to them plenty of information.

With the full length of twenty-six episodes to work with, the packing for this series is just like the first one. It's very slow, very laid back and doesn't reveal itself all that quickly. The action side of it is fairly minimal as well and what little there is of it is often quick and to the point. There are no grand battles here or intense PK'ing scenes. The show right now is far more interested in dialogue moments and pans of lush scenery and backgrounds. Having enjoyed the first series a good deal because of that nature, there is a real familiarity with it here and I enjoy coming back into this more relaxed world. Though I haven't played an RPG in years, my time spent on the admin side of a MMORPG lets me have a certain love for this aspect. The interactions between the characters, though sometimes tedious and obscure, have a wonderful flow to them in the larger sense.

As this show fits in somehow with the .hack//G.U. game, it's a positive that the anime does seem to be able to stand on its own. Multimedia series can suffer depending on what does or doesn't get brought over and some of them are too closely tied together to function on their own. Over the course of the first five episodes we start to get a glimmer of what everything will be about. My curiosity is quite drawn to this as I have to wonder if there will be anything tangible to the previous version of The World and its characters as well as finding out who the real people are behind these personas. There are some interesting hints along the way of what someone like Haseo is capable of in this version of The World that seems to be moving further and further away from what its administrators and creators intended.

While little has changed in terms of how the show looks with its designs and animation, there are some nice differences here from both of the previous incarnations. The first is that this place actually looks populated. The first series was particularly bad for this as you have millions of people playing supposedly but the characters hardly saw anyone while walking around. Play any number of the MMO's out there today and you're hard pressed to find quite places in the main cities. This version has a lot of background characters milling about both in the city and out in The World at large. But they do manage to create the Lost Ground areas to provide something different that's quieter. The other nice change is that the backgrounds now have a look that's far more interesting. A good deal of early backgrounds were mostly blue skies or certain rock formations. Here, it feels like civilizations have come and gone, leaving behind strange structures. Many of them wish that there was an entire series revolved around their discovery.

In Summary:
The world of .hack//Roots is one that I really enjoy going back into. While I can no longer bring myself to get involved in actual games of this nature, this is the closest thing I can do. This new incarnation reboots the franchise slightly in that it's a new version of The World and an all new cast. Neither are surprising for a number of reasons, particularly as it makes it all the more accessible to new viewers. Those who have seen the previous series will get more out of it and be looking for more things, but new viewers will be going in fresh just as the lead character of the series is. While not a huge evolutionary step in the series, .hack//Roots looks to be a solidly enjoyable series with plenty of room to grow.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening,TV Spot

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 24.98/59.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: .hack//ROOTS